Friday, April 25, 2008

Cardinal Sean reflects on Pope's Benedict's visit, meeting with clergy abuse victims

On his blog, Cardinal Seán shares his reflections & experiences of the Pope's visit (April 25, 2008):

Then planning a papal visit, so many things can go wrong — and when you are Irish, you expect all of them to go wrong! It was so beautiful that everything — even the weather — cooperated. The Holy Father’s visit was very uplifting and a grace-filled moment for the Catholics of our country.

The Holy Father had announced that his message was going to be “Christ our Hope,” and it certainly has given all of us a lot of hope in the Lord and in the future of our Church.

As I already mentioned in last week’s blog, a very special moment for me and for the Archdiocese of Boston took place on Thursday when the Holy Father met with five survivors of clergy sexual abuse.

The following day, on the day of the Holy Father’s anniversary, the other American cardinals and I had a wonderful opportunity to have dinner with him in the residence of the nuncio to the Vatican mission to the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore. I want to share with you that at that event, the Holy Father told me how moved he was by that meeting with the victims the day before.

Cardinal O'Malley was also interviewed by the Diocesian newspaper The Pilot, where he spoke more of the circumstances of the Pope's meeting:
Q: Can you explain your involvement in that unannounced meeting in Washington that brought together the Holy Father with five local victims of sexual abuse by clergy?

A: After it was announced that the Holy Father was going to Washington and New York and that Boston was not included, the bishops of the region joined me in writing a letter to the Holy Father asking him to reconsider and talking about the pastoral needs that we have in New England. Then the response came back that, given the very taxing nature of the trip, that they (Vatican officials) really hesitated to add anything else. So I wrote back again asking if the Holy Father would meet with victims and after that the Holy Father responded and asked me to make the necessary arrangements.

Q: Why was this meeting not part of the official schedule?

A: We did our best to keep it a very discreet meeting because we did not want to turn it a media circus and we were afraid that if people found ahead of time that that was just what would happen. Also, some of the survivors who accompanied us wished to remain anonymous and it would have made it impossible for them to participate under the public scrutiny. So, I am just thankful that we were able to carry it off without becoming public before hand.

I was very grateful to the Holy Father. The many times he addressed the sexual abuse crisis indicate how deeply he understands the situation of our Church and what happens here. He obviously feels a great sorrow over what has happened and that he is ashamed but, at the same time, wants to encourage us on the path to healing and reconciliation.

At the Thursday morning Mass at the Nationals’ stadium he talked about the need of giving pastoral care to the victims, and then in the afternoon he gave us a very concrete example of that in his own encounter with them.

Q: Why do you think this was a crucial meeting?

A: I think it was important for the victims to feel as though they had access to the Holy Father. Obviously, not all victims but someone representing them and in a small enough group, in a context that it would allow for a very personal interchange between the Holy Father and the victims. It was not a formal address; the Holy Father made his initial comments and then he spoke with each of the victims individually, he clasped their hands, he blessed them, he prayed with them.

I think for the Holy Father, pastorally, it was very important to experience this. Certainly he has heard through the bishops and through others the devastation of sexual abuse but it is another thing to encounter personally the survivors and to learn first hand of their suffering and pain.

John Allen Jr. devotes his weekly column to substantial "behind the scenes" coverage of the Pope's meeting with the victims, concluding with another interview with Cardinal O'Malley.